Cinque Terre part 4
For those of you following along, this is my last post on our fantastic adventure in Italy. I would like to now share with you some random facts and pictures from behind the scenes of our trip.
While my husband and I both consider ourselves to be rather fit and healthy, we did have a few small problems hiking. We live in Norway where the number one thing to do is walk and its mostly uphill, so that wasn’t a problem. It was the heat we struggled with. It didn’t help matters that on our first day my husband wore leather boat shoes, with NO socks! Needless to say, by the time we reached our destination his shoes were full of puddles and his feet full of blisters. I told him to wear socks but no one ever listens to me. (I know, I sound like my mother)
I knew Cinque Terre would be a beautiful place, but was in no way prepared for the splendor of these five villages and landscape around them. Hiking through olive groves, vineyards and passing lemon trees along the way was heavenly. That’s why I cannot, for the life of me, understand a person’s need to defile such beauty.
Everywhere I looked I could see names, initials and curse words carved into the leaves of the surrounding cactus and Aloe Vera plants. Why would anyone want to mar these robust and time enduring plants?
I insisted on an unplugged vacation, which meant no laptops, iPods, iPads or iPhones (one phone for emergency use only). The television in our hotel room had NOTHING on in English, not even CNN. There’s only so much talking a couple can do (he’s the quiet type). Luckily, I brought a book (two things one must always remember to pack, aspirin and a book). I also had to give my husband permission to cruise the net on our ‘emergency’ iPhone, while I read. I must now confess, curiosity got the best of me and the book I brought along was, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ (I swear, I don’t usually read erotica and don’t ask for a review).
Now for the best part – food, drinks and dessert. Cinque Terre is located on the coast and their speciality is most definitely seafood. Now when I think of seafood, I think of lobster, shrimp, crabs and salmon. Here the delicacies are anchovies, squid, octopus and sea bass. The sea bass was good but I didn’t care for the rest, my husband loved it all. I would have been happier with a bowl of pasta, but even that had seafood in it.
Seafood spaghetti anyone?
Lunch was never a problem, we always ended up at an outside cafe eating salad and pizza. The pizza was always thin, crispy and loaded with melted mozzarella. The tomatoes plump and red with fresh mozzarella and basil on top.
We found a restaurant on our last night that served real spaghetti, minus the seafood and along with some crusty bread, I chowed down!
I have just two words to describe desert, Panna cotta and Tiramisu. I shouldn’t have, but I did and it was worth it!
We ordered a bottle of Cinque Terre wine everyday, for lunch and dinner. The local wine is a dry white (my favorite) with a delicate bouquet and nice finish. Being a costal wine it also has a bit of sea tang to it (my husbands words). I don’t usually drink soda, but I have to admit ‘La Limonata’ (Lemon Soda) sure tasted good, on those hot afternoons. The one thing I didn’t see, was iced tea and was only able to drink hot tea for breakfast and in the evenings. I’m surprised I didn’t go into withdraw.
I love eating out in foreign countries, surrounded by people from all over the world. One night as we sat waiting for our meal and enjoying our wine, I noticed there were Swedes sitting to our right. A couple from down-under to our left, a family from somewhere in the UK behind us and Americans everywhere. I’m sorry, I have a bad habit of listening in on the people around me…
Every evening after dinner we’d wander out to a charming little Cliffside Bar, where I’d sip tea and we’d watch the sun go down on another perfect day in Italy. Bellissimo!
Cinque Terre part 3
With our quest for adventure now running rampant, we decided to take a day-trip and explore beyond the five villages of Cinque Terre. It was a toss up between heading north to Portofino, or south to Portovenere. For no special reason, we ended up choosing Portovenere.
We took the train to La Spezia and trying to be frugal, we bought bus tickets for the second half of the journey. We had a hard time finding the bus stop and everyone we asked simply waved their hand in the same direction. After finding the stop (or at least we thought so), we waited well over an hour, and no bus. We returned to the station and were told the bus comes every twenty minutes. At this point we gave up and took a taxi, so much for being frugal.
We arrived to what was well worth the price of the thirty-minute taxi ride. A long strip of colorful buildings stood under a cobalt sky and along the shoreline of an aqua-blue marina. Small open boats filled with fishing nets, bobbed along side prestigious sailboats and super-sized yachts.
The ancient town was like a hidden treasure, just waiting to be explored and that is exactly what we did. We first wandered out to the gothic church of ‘St. Pietro’ (Saint Peter), which was consecrated on its rocky point in 1198 and built over a preexisting fifth century church. The church stands on a promontory with breathtaking views of the Mediterranean all around it. Like all Italian churches, the atmosphere inside was cool, dark and serene. At the bottom of the peninsula is a small grotto, called ‘Byron Grotto‘ after the poet, who loved to take refuge here during his stays.
Afterwards we made our way up to the high ground on roads that were built hundreds of years ago, leading to ‘Castello Doria’ (Doria Castle). The castle dominates the landscape and teetering on the edge, it overlooks a steep jagged coastline, the magical Poets Gulf and the village of Portovenere.
We spent hours exploring the castle grounds, its walls, wide slit trenches and watchtowers. Taking pictures and stopping every five minutes to admire the scenery. Next we roamed the tight streets of the village, enjoyed a delicious meal beside the marina, and then took a boat back to Cinque Terre. What a beautiful day…
Cinque Terre – part 2
We chose to stay in Monterosso because it had the nicest and largest beach but with the four other villages beckoning, there was little time for sitting idle on this trip…
The five villages are strung along nine kilometers of cliffside footpaths and overlook the crystal blue water of the Ligurian Sea. The trails wind through olive groves and dry-stone-walled vineyards and are scattered with tourists, from all over the world.
We picked up the first trail in Monterosso and headed towards Vernazza. This is supposedly the most challenging hike of them all. It was 3Km of dusty uphill trails and steep steps that never seemed to end. Even though we started out early in the day, the temperature was a muggy, 27 degrees Celsius and it took us almost two hours to reach our destination. As I caught my first glimpse of Vernazza in the distance, it was love at first sight.
Vernazza turned out to be my favorite of all the villages. Maybe it was the three musicians who greeted us at the end of the trail playing ‘Amore’. Perhaps it was the sign that read ‘Bar’ pointing us directly into the village, or possibly the bell tower, chiming in the distance. We dawdled through crooked streets lined with colorful old houses and made our way down to the grotto. Here we lost all track of time, as we sat beside the sea watching boat loads of tourists coming and going. We drank local wine and ate crispy thin ‘real’ Italian pizza.
Afterwards, we took the train back to Monterosso and spent our ‘only’ afternoon on the beach before getting ready for dinner.
The next day we took the train back to Vernazza and continued on the path, towards the third village of Corniglia. We got a late start and the temperature was already hovering around 30. This hike was 4Km and took almost two hours. Corniglia is at the top of a steep hill, on flat land and no matter which way you come from you’ll have to head upward at some point. We headed up on the way in, and arrived drenched in sweat.
I’m almost always in charge of the camera and its not because I take better pictures, I’m a control freak (there, I said it). On this particular day my husband was in dire need of a ‘stone cold Pils’ – beer (private joke) and wouldn’t wait up, while I stopped every five minutes to take pictures. There was no need to fear, as I simply followed the sweat drops leading directly towards him. (What can I say, we’re from Norway and not used to the heat).
Corniglia is the only village not immediately on water and although it was oozing with charm, we were tired and roasting. We found a shady, outside cafe and rehydrated the afternoon away. Afterwards we walked down 400 steps to the train station, thankful we weren’t going in the opposite direction!
We couldn’t walk between Corniglia and the forth village of Manarola because the trail was closed. Torrential rains which caused flooding and mudslides in October 2011, created massive damage to the area and they’re still making repairs. Instead, we took the train all the way to the fifth village of Riomaggiore the next day, and then hiked back to Manarola.
Riomaggiore is an old village situated in a small valley planted with vineyards. Shutter clad buildings are jam-packed between steep narrow alleys and stony flights of steps. We explored the village, bought a few souvenirs and had a nice lunch before setting off to Manarola on the ‘Via dell’Amore’ an Italian lover’s lane.
This was definitely not a hike, but more of a stroll. The path was flat and paved, with benches to sit and kiss on. The view was magnificent and all along the path people seal their love by hanging padlocks and love letters …
This is ours:
It only took 25 minutes for us to walk the 1Km to Manarola. The village is situated in a deep narrow valley and stands on a rocky promontory, that rises directly from the sea. Bright colored buildings are packed both side by side, and on top of one another. Being both hot and tired, I agreed to take the boat back to Monterosso (I’m not a big fan of boats). We missed the one that left at five and had to wait an hour for the next one and were not alone. As we stood in line on a rocky bank along the sea, people starting diving into the water to cool off. Some had bathing suits under there clothes, while others just dove in with their clothes on. Of course my husband had to join in on the fun, clothing and all. It was definitely a Kodak moment but wouldn’t you know, my camera died!
The boat ride back to Monterosso was fabulous and cool, and seeing the villages from the water was a whole other expierence.
We’re not done yet…
I’m back and fully charged after five glorious days in sunny Italy.
We flew from Stavanger to Oslo, and then on to Pisa. Our final destination was Cinque Terre, located in the westernmost area of the Ligurian Riviera. Before heading out to the sun drenched oasis, we took a detour into Pisa, to see its famous Leaning Tower. The Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles) consists of four buildings, the Cathedral, Leaning Tower (bell tower), Baptistry, and Campo Santo. They stand close together on a green lawn and were even more beautiful than I imagined but what surprised me most, was how pristine they still look today.
Afterwards we took a train to La Spezia, which is often called the doorway to Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre, in Italian means, “The Five Lands” and is called this because it is composed of five villages: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare. These five villages, the coastline and the surrounding hillsides are all part of a National Nature Park and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here we were able to buy a Cinque Terre Card, which enabled us to take the train and walk on the paths connecting the small villages as much as we liked. From La Spezia to the last village, Monterosso (where we were staying) was only a twenty-five minute train ride.
We stayed at the Hotel Baia which was located directly across the street from the beach. Monterossa is the most touristy of the five villages because of its long span of beach and promenade along the sea. The hotel was an old, four story building with high ceilings (twelve feet) and steep steps leading up to each floor. There was an old glass elevator, but used only for transporting luggage, pregnant women and the elderly. Every room had a balcony, but only the ones in front and on the sides overlooked the sea. Ours was in the back, yet lovely and private just the same. The room was basic, but clean. A buffet breakfast was served every morning in a sunny dining room.
Monterossa is uniquely protected by hills, olive groves and lemon trees. In the backstreets of Monterossa is the old part of town, where there are shops, cafes and of course, churches. Here is where you can also pick up the well-trodden paths connecting the five villages. Trekking from one village to the other can be a little challenging in some places, due to the heat, slopes and steps.
There is more to come on the other four villages, our hike, the local wine, Italian food and the breathtaking beauty of Cinque Terre… But first, I have to read the seventy-nine new posts waiting in my inbox, wash three baskets of dirty clothes and go food-shopping. I won’t even mention what my house looks like after leaving two teenage boys and two dogs home alone to fend for themselves all week. Oh, its great to be home…